A doctor, a former district attorney and a libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate gathered in Isla Vista on Wednesday night to discuss drug policy in the United States.
David Bearman, founder of the I.V. medical clinic Medical Clinic; Joe Allen, former district attorney of Mendocino County; and Judge James Gray, a superior court judge in Orange County and senatorial candidate, spoke to an audience of about 35 people in I.V. Theater for the event, titled “A Trip through American Drug Policy.” The event was cosponsored by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) at UCSB and the Asian American Studies Dept.
Bearman began the night with a 15-minute lecture on the history of the U.S.’ drug policy, which he said is racist and negatively stereotypes drug users. Bearman challenged the government’s depiction of many drugs as “evil” and said it used that image to vilify different racial and ethnic groups.
“Why did we start demonizing these drugs? Why did we have the Marijuana Tax Act [of 1937]? Why did we have Prohibition? And the answer I think would be we were into demonizing people,” Bearman said.
Allen followed Bearman’s lecture with a talk about the disproportionate number of minority inmates in American prisons. He said he believed that minority citizens are arrested more frequently for drug-related offenses because living in lower-class neighborhoods increases the chances of a run-in with the police.
“Money buys privacy. If you’ve got middle- to upper-class financial resources you don’t have to do cocaine in your car parked in a parking lot behind a bar,” Allen said.
Allen said the situation has not gotten any better for minorities because the majority of people who vote are not the same group affected by national drug policies.
“The California population is different from the voting population. Eighty percent of the ballots for gubernatorial recall were made by upper- and middle-class white people,” Allen said.
Gray, the final speaker of the night, said today’s drug policies are as much of a failure as the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s. There are currently two million people in prison in the U.S. – more people than were imprisoned South Africa during apartheid, Gray said.
“We cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem,” Gray said.
Gray said he would like to see the government stop its war against marijuana and treat the drug like it does alcohol, which is statistically a far more dangerous substance. He said such a change in policy would save taxpayers in California approximately $1 billion per year and reduce the availability of marijuana to children because “local drug dealers don’t ask for I.D.”
Even though Holland legalized marijuana more than 20 years ago, Gray said the per capita usage of the drug in Holland is only half what it is in the U.S. He said in making marijuana acceptable, the Dutch government had taken away most of the drug’s glamour and rebellious image.
Patricia Shatz, freshman biochemistry major and member of NORML at UCSB, said she was surprised by the speakers’ claims that minorities are not the people most affected by the proliferation of illegal drugs.
“I found it interesting to hear that that that’s kind of a false image – that it’s really more like the white population in the U.S. that are abusing drugs,” Shatz said. “But the world is not aware of that, and they should be.”
Robert Gagliardo, a 59-year-old telephone company employee, said he thinks people like Bearman, Allen, and Gray should be applauded for their fight against U.S. drug policies.
“People who stand up for that are heroes,” Gagliardo said. “These guys are heroes.”